Thursday, April 4, 2013

Our Grandmothers and Their Buttons

What is it about the past that entices us to LOVE vintage or antique artifacts?  Is it the quality of craftsmanship, the use of beautiful materials not so easily accessible or available today, an art form that defines the culture of days gone by, or a link to historical events that continue to fascinate us? 
When you think about some of our very own grandmothers or grandfathers actually growing up in the late 1800’s, even getting married before the turn of that century, it doesn’t seem so long ago.  My grandmother raised me, and she was born in 1882, married in 1899.  She was 72 when she opened her arms to my brother and me as little children in the 1950’s and we moved in with her. 
Today we see the pictures of our ancestors and their clothing so “old,” dresses so long, homes so small, ladies wearing aprons and gentlemen wearing overalls and hats or caps, all in a day’s work.  They had no computers, not even a typewriter.  They had no refrigerators or electric or gas stoves.  Certainly no microwaves or hair dryers.  Grandma and I used to shovel coal out of the “coal room” in the basement with a big wide shovel, scooping it into the furnace the next room over.  When our coal room was empty, she would order more, and the coal truck would drive over and dump a lot more coal out of the truck, down a conveyor belt, through a small window at the top of the coal room window. 
Like most grandmas, mine had a sewing machine drawer full of buttons.  I remember sitting on the dining room floor at about age 7 and lining the buttons up on the brown print carpet that was designed in one-foot-wide squares.  My buttons touched each other all across the square lines all over the dining room.  When anyone had to walk from the kitchen to the living room, or vice versa, they had to tip-toe so as to not mess up my button work of art.  Today, I still treasure Grandma’s very buttons, the plain celluloids, lucites, enamels, realistics, plastics, Bakelites, brass, etc.  Except now I know what they are.  And they carry with them the popular styles and materials of the day.
Who would have guessed that when I would be a grandma, not only would I treasure the rare 16x20 portraits of Grandma and Grandpa Swihart on our guest room wall, plus one taken of Grandma holding her doll at age 8, taken in 1890, but I would also still treasure her buttons and several other antiques that had belonged to her.  My love of buttons from an early age led to sporadic collecting as a young wife and mother, and then cascaded into my life at full speed ahead after my children were grown and away at college.  It was only then that I learned of button clubs, button dealers, state and national button societies, and the many wonderful resources available for button collectors!  Oh, and the greatest benefit of all was the many new friends who had the same passionate interest in buttons that I had!
A great love for the artistic and historical significance of buttons grew over the years as I began to collect buttons of jaw-dropping beauty.  They bring with them the way people visualized beauty and felt the joy of creating that beauty, using only the best materials.

Today I’m celebrating the joy of life and love of family and friends with good health and God as an integral part of our lives, and complementing that joy and love one step further by sharing this gorgeous button, hand painted on ivory, signed (on her right shoulder), set in silver, late 1700’s or early 1800’s.  As you take in the sheer beauty of this magnificent button, think about those days right around the French Revolution and other cultural and political events.  Imagine the artist.  Who was he or she?  Did he have a family?  Where did he live?  How many children did he have, if any?  Was he well?  How long did he live?  What other great works of art did he create?  Did he have a sense of humor?  Was he outgoing or a quiet person?  What were his loves in life?  Or his challenges?  Whoever he was, did he know he was creating a piece of art that would go down in history and bring great joy to many people for centuries to come?  What a legacy!


  1. Wonderful post, Mid Di!
    That button is stunning............
    Linda K

  2. Well,duh......that was supposed to read "Miz Di"

  3. Oh, yes, coal delivery! I remember that. I guess my Dad shoveled it in the beginning, then we had a "hopper" that fed the furnace automatically. Aprons...............a fond memory, especially of my Grandmother's. It was a part of her wardrobe that was worn most of the day. What fun to take a trip down memory lane with you, Diane!